The biggest biogas producer in Europe has warned that it will take years to raise considerable output, despite the EU’s pressure for a quick rise to decrease dependency on Russian gas. 

The EU’s energy policies are progressive and include clear targets for renewable energy, cost-cutting, and emission reduction, but have historically failed to acknowledge the security threat posed by the continent’s reliance on Russian hydrocarbons, particularly natural gas. 

Biomethane is identical to natural gas in its chemical form, and it is produced through the controlled decomposition of animal and industrial waste. The EU intends to reduce its gas imports from Russia by two-thirds and wants to quadruple its output by the end of the year, which will account for approximately 3% of that reduction. 

Ole Hvelplund, CEO of Danish biomethane producer Nature Energy, said that the target is not ideal as it would take at least two years to get permits and construct plants. He told the Financial Times that it would take a lot of time to build plants for production, saying: “It will not be doubling on existing plants because you have a lot of physical restraints. In the short run to the next winter, it is limited what we can do.”

With Moscow having cut supplies to Europe, the EU needs to replace 101.5 billion cubic metres of Russian gas this year. Doing so will be crucial for the continent to prevent blackouts and the shutdown of heavy industry during the winter, especially when demand is at its highest. 

Biogas is largely produced from agricultural wastes, animal manure, and industrial activities through “anaerobic digestion”. It is a process in which microorganisms degrade organic matter in an oxygen-free environment. This is then refined into biomethane by extracting CO2, which is processed in the pipeline network in the same way as natural gas.

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According to proponents, CO2 emissions generated during the purification are emitted naturally and the method saves emissions that would have been released by burning natural gas.

The biomethane industry is attempting to transition from a fragmented, cottage industry to an industrial-scale enterprise. Nature Energy produced €200m in revenue last year, but the sector is increasingly catching the attention of major companies.

After signing a long-term deal in 2020 to purchase Nature Energy’s biomethane production, Shell started its first US biomethane facility in September 2021. Meanwhile, TotalEnergies has partnered with Veolia to produce biomethane from wastewater and last week, France’s Engie and container transport company CMA CGM decided to collaborate on a biomethane project.